Remember when, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazi found the Ark of the Covenant and thought it would make them invincible? Remember that scary scene when they opened it and out came a host of spirits that eviscerated the evil warmongers, stripping them of their skin down to bare bones? I was seven when that movie came out and that scene was so frightening that I was escorted from the theater in a trail of horrified tears.
I was a sensitive child.
I’ve been obsessed with that scene ever since, and the power of covenants has haunted me for decades. I encountered covenants again in high school, learning of the Puritans and John Winthrop and the founding of America as, “We are entered into covenant with Him for this work…” and on the principle of (ironically enough) religious freedom—we should all have the freedom to be Puritans, he argued. It was a revolutionary theory in the seventeenth century, and though it seems absurd by today’s standards, it set the ideological stage for Jefferson’s First Amendment and the freedom of today’s atheists—Crucible-infused—to proclaim their disdain for the frustrations of religion.
But, let’s be honest with our collective self.
The idea of covenants endures. It is, in fact, the centrepiece (sic) of modern liberalism. Where our interpersonal relationships fail our neighbors, and the insulated auto-adulation of the modern megachurch fails us, the ostensibly non-parochial state has stepped in. We can stand behind our tax dollars and our federal budgets to proclaim our interest in our neighbors. We have invested in safety nets and welfare to justify our disengagement with the real needs of our most needy. As a “body politick,” to use Winthrop’s phrase, especially since FDR, we have hidden behind New Dealism—and its heir, Great Society—to prove that we are a caring nation, that we reward the accidents of citizenship with compassion and generosity.
The Ark of the Covenant, the shrouded chest around which beat the heart of the Israelites—and America’s city-on-a-hill—gilded and holy though it was, contained within it a pot of Manna, the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s rod.
If we, in America’s 2017, want to talk about covenants, this should still be our starting point. Let that starting point be a “Radical Center” that eschews the partisan fringe mongers who seek to undermine our covenants.
If we, from our Christian history or our free-to-be-anti-parochial present, want to walk our village-walk, we should recognize our village—call it a church if you please—and the contents of its covenants:
1. The right to live (Manna)
2. The right to be whole (Ten commandments)
3. The right to love (Aaron’s rod *wink*)
We are not dishonest landslides from a crumbling Zion. We are a good and honest people—not Nazis for whom the attempted misappropriation of the covenants led to tomb-Raiders’ defeat.
If we are going to be honest, we need to understand that in a world where science and medicine converge in a nation of hope, every member of our body politick deserves a chance to live. In the year 2017, in the nation where capitalism has underwritten scientific advances, where rich Canadians can afford to visit American doctors, we are responsible for the protection and preservation of American lives—regardless of the poorest Americans’ means. If this means healthcare underwritten by an overwritten insurance industry, so be it. Manna is more than crusts in this nation where bread is nothing less than the bookends to a protein and its creamy topping.
If we value life, we value all life and its quality: Life and Choice needn’t be exclusive.
If we are going to be honest, aside from number three, those Commandments’ rules apply whether we are ragingly God-fearing or otherwise. We, as an American people, rightfully dwell upon our ideologies. The Rule of Law and the streams of justice converge in a gold-covered chest where we are required to acknowledge the slights upon humankind from which we’ve benefitted. Human dignity and American pride require us to repair the atrocities that our forebears perpetrated against humanity. The displacements of the indigenous and the African-rooted-AND AND!—upon this continent are inexcusable. We owe them our apologies, both, and our riches.
We owe them our knee-bent thanks: call it “reparations,” if it makes us (feel) better.
If we are going to be honest, we must acknowledge that the institutions around love have failed us. Not without note, the laws around the dissolution of marriage have emerged as powerfully as the creation of marriage. Love, the rock upon which marriage should stand, cowers in the shadow of its absence. Marriage is a farce meant to perpetuate other institutions whose values should stand on their own. To the extent that otherly-love matters, red-blooded Americans assert the value of their own relationships with each other and with the larger politick. If those relationships are defined by a bankrupt institution, so be it (Amen), so far as those evacuated relationships are available to everybody else.
Love is more than licenses and ceremony: Love is a human right.
If America has the capacity to survive, it will be upon the mantle of its future. If honesty and covenants matter, if our promises to our neighbors matter, if the freedoms of Winthrop and Jefferson and Tubman and Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt and MLK matter, we are commanded to respect life, wholeness, and love with equal vicissitude.
Fictional archeologists, Hollywood stars, American Radical Centrists, and Fundamentalists, even, agree.
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